Dreams Of A Life


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
07 Wednesday 07th December 2011

None of the bare scraps of information in the national press could solve the mystery for her so Carol began a mission to dig up whatever facts she could and piece together the story of Joyce’s life. That film is now Dreams of a Life.

How long did it take you to decide to make a film based on this story?

It happened straight away. I saw that article, found it on the tube in a copy of The Sun and I just couldn’t let it go; I thought “I’m going to make a film about this”, it was that instant. I didn’t know it would take five years [she laughs] but I knew pretty quickly I wanted to tell it my way. I didn’t want to do some conventional, TV documentary; I knew there was a story to be told, but for me it had to be in a particular way which wasn’t that.

So was that when you decided to call on the people who knew her?

Well, because she was so anonymous and such a mysterious presence, that seemed like one way to tell the story. The press never got a photograph of her, and the fact that she had her TV on for three years really haunted me. I had these images going on in my head of how to portray her, but I had to do a lot of public records research to track people down. Then I put the ads everywhere: on the sides of London cabs, in the Evening Standard and Time Out, on the internet and so on.

It seemed to me that everyone who saw those ads never thought it was ‘their’ Joyce. They didn’t even clock it. For example Martin [Lister, Joyce’s ex-boyfriend, pictured above] would think ‘I wonder how Joyce is’ then see my advert and not even contemplate it being her.

Initial reactions to Carol's ad, from people who knew Joyce

So she seemed to be a different person altogether by the time she died?

Yeah, and I think the testimonials were very important because I wanted to explore how we define other people and each other. It’s not as though I tried to paint a portrait of Joyce Vincent myself, but I knew there would be contradictions in how people viewed her and I wanted that to come across in the film.

I wanted to say ‘Here are a set of ideas around who she possibly was’, and how maybe the way she presented herself allowed her to go unnoticed for so long. By giving off this image of an aspirational person, it would be easy for the people who knew her to assume she was just off having a better life than they were.

Once in touch with her former friends, how did you get them on camera and featured in the film? They must have been dealing with some serious guilt issues.

Well, it could have been done as something quite unseemly, you know. I could have done a voiceover and blamed people since no-one ever knows how their words can be twisted in an interview. But with Martin, who never thought he’d be in the film, he felt he had to do it for her. That became the case with the others, and I built up their trust by getting to know them before turning the cameras on.

Then why the choice to mix in Zawe Ashton’s recreated scenes with all the raw material from the interviews?

Because I think the testimonies are very powerful but if you only have those you’re saying ‘this is it, this is all she was’. The main thing with film is how you can represent things and create moods; I don’t like films when it’s just illustrative and filler; I still wanted to give Joyce her voice. Her love for music made me want to make the film quite musical too. And I felt that the flickering TV in front of her, where she died, could be a way into the music and the testimonials.

Finally, why take on a journalist’s project from an artistic perspective?

I think with stuff that I’ve done, coming from a fine arts and film-making background, I went around things like a journalist never would but found out things maybe for that precise reason. I come to it from being interested in how you represent a person and I don’t want to tell people things in the most conventional way. I want them to work them out for themselves.


Dreams of a Life opens in theatres this Friday, Dec 16

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.